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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gay Divorce is the New Frontier

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 3:44 PM

I was on sabbatical for three months, so this weekly blog column on gender and sexuality issues disappeared. But now my giant face banner is back! Hello! The Sexual Politics column archive is here—please feel free to email me issues you think I should cover.

"Freedom to Marry" is a lovely, romantic rallying call. But I'd like to give shout-out to the equally important civil right: Freedom to divorce.

The patchwork of same-sex marriage and anti-marriage laws around the country have created a series of alternate realities for queer couples: A couple's legal marriage evaporates across certain state lines. The same bizarro world exists for same-sex divorce except, since divorce isn't heartwarming, we don't talk about it much. But, really, what's worse than having to fight for the right to marry someone... and then realizing that your hard-won life-partner really shouldn't be your life-partner anymore, but now you're stuck with them.

"There's a huge amount of confusion around this," says Portland LGBT-centric lawyer Beth Allen, who I interviewed this week for the paper's queer issue. "Anti-gay states are saying, 'We're not going to grant your civil union or marriage long enough to let you dissolve it.' We are not treated the same way at all as heterosexual couples are treated in terms of the portability of our relationships. Until marriage equality is federal law, we're going to have parallel universes existing in each state."

Just last month, Maryland courts approved same-sex divorce, but same-sex couples that traveled to Massachusetts are still stuck in wedlock if their home states don't recognize their marriages, unless they move to Massachusetts and establish residency there. Unlike male-female marriage, same-sex marriages aren't portable. If a married same-sex couple moves to Oregon, they're demoted to domestic partners—a status they have to legally register with the state if they want the accompanying benefits.

But Oregon, it turns out, is a pretty great place for jilted lovers. As long as you registered in the state as domestic partners, Oregon will let you dissolve your relationship no matter where you live now, and will follow a legal process very similar to the one that governs straights' splits.

The whole absurdity of this situation hits home the need for a unified, national law legalizing same-sex marriage. Working through gay marriage on a state-by-state level, we're going to end up with a winding web of different laws that will bind couples together legally long after the love is gone.

"This is a problem that no one anticipated," says Allen. "If you get married somewhere else and you're heterosexual, it doesn't matter."

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